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Boyhood Nazi Link of Reagan Appointee Told

Times Staff Writer

More than three decades after arriving in the United States, and one day after being appointed to a senior White House post by President Reagan, John O. Koehler found his childhood membership in a Nazi-sponsored youth group the subject of attention Friday.

Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater fielded approximately 30 minutes of questions about Koehler’s background at the daily White House briefing after the media Thursday disclosed Koehler’s membership in the Jungvolk as a 10-year-old boy in prewar Germany.

Koehler, a former executive of the Associated Press and a consultant to the U.S. Information Agency, listed the Jungvolk membership in personal data he provided to the government to obtain a security clearance for his new post as the President’s director of communications. However, he did not include it in the resume he gave to the White House.

Reagan Held Unaware

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Fitzwater acknowledged that the President had not been aware of the membership before selecting Koehler, 56, to replace departing director Patrick J. Buchanan but said the White House stood by the appointment and Koehler’s suitability for the job.

“Mr. Koehler was selected for this position on the basis of his distinguished record with the Associated Press and with the United States Information Agency,” Fitzwater said. “He has an excellent background. He has security clearances at various points throughout his career. He comes highly recommended. And I assume he will start his duties as communications director on March 2.”

No opposition has been voiced to Koehler’s appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation.

In an interview, Koehler described the Jungvolk as “an organization like the Boy Scouts but sponsored by the Nazi Party.”

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‘It Was Boring’

In recalling his experience in 1940, he said, “You marched around one day after school, and on Saturdays you went out into the countryside and sat around a campfire and sang songs. It was boring for me, so I quit.”

As a child in Germany, he said, “there was absolutely no way to escape this” exposure to Nazism. “In a way, I was a victim of Nazism, too. You didn’t have to be in a concentration camp.”

He called the news reports about his background “a black day in American journalism. I hope this incident will make American newspapermen a little more sensitive and carry out their professions the way I was brought up--to be as unbiased as is humanly possible and to not be influenced by politics.”

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Koehler joined the Associated Press in 1949 in Germany, later immigrated to Canada and then to the United States in 1953. He served in the U.S. Army from April, 1954, until July, 1956, he said, and then served in the Army Reserve as an officer until 1967. He retired from the AP in 1985 as an assistant general manager.

Friday evening, Reagan called Koehler from Camp David, Md., and gave him a vote of confidence, Koehler said. He said he told Reagan, “I’m under the gun,” and the President replied: “Yeah, but I know you have a lot of friends behind you, and so am I.”


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